Thanks for grace these few months while the blog’s been on hiatus. I’ve been writing a fair amount, and learning a lot about my process. Though I’ve edited for years, I still know surprisingly little about the real writing of books. And specifically novels. Certainly it’s an occupation that takes a good while to learn and requires special mental tools to really survive it. I do know a lot of theory and general information about what makes novels work and even how authors write them. And I read a lot. But I don’t know how one makes people love their type of story and how to ensure they’ll spend time and money seeking it out.
It’d be nice to know these things going in. But then you wouldn’t need faith, right?
Aside from the need for faith, one thing I think I have a moderate amount of control over in writing this novel is the vital need to love what I’m writing. If I don’t love it, I’d better figure out why and fix it or I’ll never finish.
I know it’s a common problem, losing steam. I’ve muscled my way through articles, essays, short stories, even novellas, and there’s just no muscling through 300+ pages. My muscles, my mind, and my muse revolt. I start climbing the walls and moaning about how long it’s getting and how much extraneous blather I have to put in to keep readers up. Of course, it isn’t extraneous, but that essential fictive bubble is easily burst by the interior editor and his clawing demands.
So, I go to combat this self-sabotage by striving for a sort of verbal diarrhea and ignoring the pleas for economy and restraint. And if I get a couple good thoughts or scenes, I celebrate my victory by feeling powerful and a little larger for a few hours or so. And even once the feeling fades, some part of me recalls that my happiness does rest in this mental trickery to just get the flipping story out. And when the urge to edit becomes unbearable again, I’ll have to figure out new tricks for tripping up the sage saboteur.
Basically, the deal is, to truly love what I’m writing, I have to fight to preserve my created world from the disconnecting, fracturing one constantly sniping at me. I have to remember that I write to connect the dots and make sense of things, and that the demoniac with the red pen is not my chum. If I’m going to write, I have to enjoy living in that world where some nonlinear beauty adds an organic, natural quality, and the chaotic tumbling of words serves a greater purpose and will make some sort of larger sense.
Honestly, the writer in me doesn’t really care how good the prose is. He just wants people to read it and enjoy it. Yes, quality literature is enormously important. But it’s no good if I’m worried about how good it is. And because I know that my “good edit” is the enemy of great story, I can’t worry about quality while I’m writing. If I do, no one’s ever reading it.
Second, Kafka and Hawthorne are dead. And though one might aspire to them, living writers can’t eat ideals. The purest prose doesn’t put money in your pocket. Today, if you want another contract, you need readers. That’s difficult enough, so in the end you need to write what’s going to get you read and let someone else sort out the quality question. This is why I think there’s little else that so determines your ability to find readers than gagging that inner word Nazi, at least while you’re writing. From his perspective, the struggle I’ve met with in trying to write this book makes perfect sense—he knows how badly my sentences suck. But should I care?
Of course not. Because thirdly, the only real quality to be concerned with doesn’t have to do with big words and literary phrasing. It’s the quality of the ideas, of the content. And how those ideas illuminate depth of meaning. And form those connections that end isolation. And rip at the frozen seas inside.
So in the end it’s good to remember: only you have your particular message. And only you can protect the big reasons you write. And as you strive to preserve your love for your work in progress, you may have to keep reminding yourself like I do that you can’t ever let anyone—even yourself—throw you off.